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THE SPIRIT IS THRILLING!; My young side - and the fans - deserve Cup success, says Tottie; 'This tie's come at the right time for us ... it is a relief from all the pressures of the Premier Division.'.

KILLIE manager Alex Totten has more than a sneaking feeling that his team are ripe for a run in the Scottish Cup ... and he has good reason.

His young side have already shown their fighting spirit by clawing their way up from the foot of the Premier table.

He accepts that he couldn't have been set up with a more difficult tie than a trip to Easter Road on Saturday. But after his team's most recent show of heroics it's much more than a Cup cliche when he says: "We now know that we can beat Hibs.

"We gave them two goals at the start last week and then came back to beat them 3-2.

"It was only then I realised it was the first time we had beaten them in 15 years."

Kilmarnock's last appearance in the final was 36 years ago - which they lost - under the former Rangers' legend Willie Waddell.

So the Rugby Park fans know precious little about Cup fever!

But Tottie, as he is known throughout the game, feels it could be time for a change: "I feel this tie has come at the right time for us.

"It'll come as some relief to us from the pressures of the Premier Division."

If he says that with some feeling it is understandable. Killie opened the season with five straight defeats to make them early relegation candidates with many pundits.

Totten did not agree. He has since guided his players clear of the bottom three clubs - with some considerable help from his Yugoslav keeper Dragoje Lekovic, who has 13 national caps.

The keeper's midweek penalty save from Motherwell new boy Willie Falconer earned Killie a 1-0 victory. It was also proof of the growing influence the 28-year-old Lekovic now has on the Killie defence.

After his pounds 100,000 signing from, would you believe, Budocnost Pedgoric 14 months ago, it took time for "Drag" to settle - mainly because of the obvious language problem.

That problem no longer exists and the former skipper of the Yugoslav Under-21 side which won the Under-21 World Cup in Chile in 1987 has developed into one of the most efficient keepers in the game.

"We're a young side," says Tottie, "so we are learning all the time, and the experience of Lekovic is important to us.

"I admit that I could have used a fresh face this season, as the only big signing I have made since I came here 18 months ago was the pounds 300,000 I paid St Johnstone for striker Paul Wright.

"I was interested in Willie Falconer, but I didn't have the pounds 200,000 Celtic wanted so he went to Motherwell.

"However we should have Tom Brown and Robert Connor back from injury for the Hibs tie and we'll be ready. One thing is sure, we'll take the games to Hibs, and Alex Miller knows that. We won't be hanging about."

With Celtic and Rangers dominating the game more than ever this season, Totten knows it will take a very special effort from any other club to rip the Cup from the Old Firm giants.

He adds: "You always need a bit of luck in the Cup, and it helps to get drawn at home.

"But we're in good shape for this tie. We just hope we can win it for our fans who have given us terrific support this season, particularly in that early period. It would be a terrific boost for all of us at this time of the season."

The Killie boss began his career as a kid under Liverpool's Bill Shankly, played alongside Alex Ferguson with Dunfermline, was assistant to Jock Wallace at Rangers and has managed Dumbarton, Alloa, Falkirk, St Johnstone and East Fife.

He has accepted everything football has thrown at him. He has no hang- ups.

He is also a real enthusiast. The hard working manager who has always had to do his business on a limited cash budget. Alex will tell you with a smile it has been a lifestyle that has never, ever been simple, but has always been interesting.

The third round tie with Alex Miller's Hibs may not be seen as a classic, but for Totten it's the one that could push him on his way to his best- ever season in football.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Herron, Allan
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jan 21, 1996
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